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Assessment Issues for International Students and for Teachers of International Students

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This case study addresses some of the issues specific to assessment which arise when teachers and students hold different academic assumptions, expectations and requirements. Students who travel to a different country in order to study do so with a mix of expectations. Most anticipate the new cultural context will challenge their ability to adapt and have thought ahead about how they will cope with different customs, weather, food and so on. Those who do plan ahead say it helps, even if in the end, things turn out differently from the way they imagined. It is often a different story for academic cultural differences. Over several decades, Cortazzi and Jin (1997) have published and investigated differences in how teaching and learning is organised around the world. They describe how all people remain ‘blind’ to their own academic culture as long as they remain within it. They assume the familiar is universal until they encounter surprising and perhaps unacceptable behaviours which the perpetrator themselves regards as unproblematic. For teachers, unwelcome surprises might include students memorising and reproducing lecture notes in exams; or postgraduate students waiting to be told what to do next when pursuing a research degree; or students submitting essays constructed by cutting and pasting large chunks of others’ words without attribution. For students, the unwelcome surprise might be failing an exam which they tackled in the same way they always did before coming to the UK. The focus here is on helping students adapt to UK assessment contexts although in reality teachers need to adapt too. Suggestions on how teachers might do this are drawn from a large body of literature which seeks to make assessment more inclusive for students arriving from a range of academic cultural backgrounds and all of whom are seeking to succeed in UK higher education. (See, for example, Carroll and Ryan, 2005; Jones and Brown, 2007; Sletaugh, 2007).

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